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Friday 28 January 2005

Auschwitz - to remember, or forget? [Brit]

According to a government statistic I saw in the paper yesterday, 60% of people under 35 have never heard of Auschwitz.
Personally I'm a tad suspect of such throwaway numbers, but if its even half true, thats a pretty staggering thought.
Yesterday Europe, Russia and the USA (pretty much) remembered the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz; a place where over one million prisoners were systematically exterminated. International media coverage was extensive, and I find it hard to get my head round the idea that such a large chunk of the population should not know why, or where, or who.
Do we not teach history (especially when it is of such importance) to kids these days? I'm not suggesting that we allow the likes of the Simon Wiesenthal center to get involved, but for a generation to not learn of what happens when folk come up with "a final solution" is dangerous, surely?
Of course, knowing about something is one thing - learning from it is a completely different kettle of fish. Just look at Rwanda, the Balkans (you would have thought they'd have learned the quickest) and Somalia...
There is a school of thought that given that this all happened so long ago, and that barring a few 85 year old ex-Nazis hiding in Argentina (supposedly) we should simply move on; and presumably forget. In my view, that's a school of thought that needs to go back to school; nobody operating on all cylinders would equate today's German citizen with those engaged in such atrocities - yet there is I feel a need to remember, to teach, and to learn.
History is unpleasant in some ways, that doesn't make it any less valid...


  1. It's a bit scary. This was only 60 years ago. A mere century after such a momentous apocalypse as World War II and the documentary channels will be screening shows about conflicts in the middle east instead (because kids like colour) and the entire thing will be firmly forgotten.
    I'm not entirely sure you can't learn the same lessons by looking at more recent events though. Basically the human race has the capability to be a barbaric species.

  2. I have been over there and see the awful horror with my own eyes, and I really think its one of these things that every single human should go and see for themselves..
    To be honest its not the gass chamber, or the awful 'living' conditions its the 'exibits' before you get that far. Personally I did not *really* understand how terrible and disgusting it really was until looking at around a tonne of human hair sealed behind glass, or 100's and 100's of peoples suit cases - with their names and address on them, still with their stuff in them and so on. Seeing that with your own eyes is more than a book or a movie can ever do.
    I think it should be at worst one of the options for school trips that every school does at some point (we always went to paris when in 4th year for example)

  3. We went to Bergen Belsen as part of a Naval exchange with the German Navy in '96. The huge floor to ceiling photographs of, as you say, everything from luggage to hair was actually not that eventful - however after you leave the visitor's centre, you walk along a fairly narrow pathway leading to a circular memorial area.
    On each side are enormous mounds of earth, ringed with stone - and on the front of each, simply a number. The smallest was 4,000 the largest over 35,000. The number of bodies in each. That was really hard to understand, let alone deal with on the day - and you're absolutely right; kids should be taken to these places, and they should be shown what it is happened in them.

  4. These numbers do get trotted out fairly regularly and who knows where the truth lies. But the basic fact is that a lot of the population are fucking thick and they don't remember these things which are taught to a certain extent in school because they don't have the intelligence to empathise. That such atrocity is not really recognised by them just tells you what animals you live with that make up your representative race. Winston Churcill once said a happy, intelligent person is a rare thing indeed. Perhaps it'd be better to be fucking stupid and care less?

  5. I don't know....I asked our General manager, who is of sri lankan origin, he was amazed when he saw some documentary, he really had no idea that this kind of atrocity had happened in WW2.
    Lest we forget....

  6. What's really nasty is watching the Japanese re-write their schoolbooks to plaster over some of the nastier things they got up to. Australia has had the odd diplomatic row with them as a result.

  7. It's not even so much re-writing, as that this stuff has never been in them in the first place. Much of Japan has at no point come to terms with the horrific stuff that they did during the Second World War - there's a very strong right wing movement there (which admittedly is largely among the older generation, so it'll probably die out eventually) which argues with basic historical fact like the Rape of Nanking or the Mengele-esque human experiments conducted by Unit 731.
    In their defence, the majority of Japanese people I know are under absolutely no illusions regarding their nation's conduct in the war, but then again, I know very few Japanese people over the age of 30, and those who I do know are obviously those who have made the effort to learn a fair bit of English and make friends abroad, so it's hardly a representative sample.
    There's a hope that as the older generation of diehards fades away, the ridiculous and insulting nonsense over their schoolbooks will fade away with them, but I don't think Japan is ever going to demonstrate the level of national soul-searching and guilt that you see from Germany regarding the second world war, and as such it's going to be a long time before this stops pissing off other nations.
    There are two reasons for this; firstly, Japan has a distinct feeling that it was a bit of a victim at the end of WW2, given that around a million women and children died in the firebombing of wooden cities like Tokyo and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I'm not saying I agree - two wrongs don't make a right and the aggression of the Americans towards Japanese civilians in no way excuses the actions of the Japanese in occupied territories - but you can see how that kind of thing leaves them feeling more like victims than aggressors.
    The other, perhaps more important, element is the basic Japanese cultural and religious significance of honouring dead ancestors. Like the war dead of any other nation, most Japanese dead were just soliders serving their nation, and they were all someone's relatives or ancestors. The cultural importance of honouring them is very difficult to align in the minds of many Japanese people with dwelling on the evil things that some of them did.
    Sorry, bit of a long post there on what probably isn't a hugely interesting topic for most people. It's just that this is one of the areas of the Japanese group psyche that I've always disliked and found difficult to reconcile with the actual personalities of the Japanese people I know, so it's one I've spent a lot of time reading - and asking awkward questions - about.

  8. That's quite an interesting take on it. I do remember the various rows about what they were teaching people when I grew up. Australian relations were mildly strained for the longest time as a result of this.
    On the stuff the Americans did. In fairness they did try strategic bombing first but it didn't work very well so they moved onto the fire stuff later. In retrospect I think we can all say that bombing as a demoralising activity never really worked for anyone.
    If Japan was populated by Germans, then I think Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been inappropriate at this late stage in the war but given that the Japanese were all mad religious zealots and fought to the death to a man - the Americans didn't have much of a choice but to save their own lives. If faced with killing 100 enemy (women, children, whatever) versus saving one of your own - what country would do it differently?
    It saddens me that any Japanese could consider themselves a victim in WW2. The way they behaved, their absolute rampant aggression towards everyone in the region and their subsequent treatment of prisoners of war and the natives of occupied territories... They had similar delusions as the Germans, considering themselves the master race and everyone else barbarians and that meant they never afforded anyone else a quarter of mercy or even treatment as a human being.
    If they were a victim, ithey were victims of themselves and their attitude to everything that isn't Japanese. What worries me is that, unlike Germany as you say, the fundamental Japanese way of thinking today isn't so dissimilar to that which lead to the war in the first place. Now they're just smart enough to realise how one needs to behave.